Prison riot squads were called out to calm tensions in prisons almost four times every week on average last year prompting warnings that jails have become “dens of violence”.
The National Tactical Response Group (NTRG) was called out to deal with 203 separate prisoner disturbances in 2013, a 57% rise on the previous year (129), Justice Minister Jeremy Wright has revealed.
The number of callouts of the NTRG, the specialist response group for serious incidents in prisons, has increased by 72% from 118 incidents in 2010 when the coalition was elected to last year’s figure.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan blamed the Government for cutting prison workers while jails become more overcrowded, creating rising fears of attacks on staff.
At the start of the month the prison population stood at 85,469, with just 441 spaces left in the whole system.
This means prisons are now running at 99.5% of capacity, beyond the 99% level when the Government is meant to implement the “emergency footing” for prisons known as Operation Safeguard, according to the Labour frontbencher.
Mr Khan, who uncovered the figures using a parliamentary question, said: “In the space of a year, our jails have become much more dangerous places for staff and prisoners. These figures are a further sign of the Government’s failure and lay bare the mess in our prisons on (Justice Secretary)Chris Grayling’s watch.
“This Government promised us a rehabilitation revolution. Instead, violence has risen by nearly three quarters since 2010. Prisoners are going up and prison staff down.
“Jails are more overcrowded than ever, and instead of prisoners putting their time to good use working, undertaking training and education they’re idling away in their cells or on prison landings.
“Prisons are about reforming criminals as well as punishing them. If our jails are dens of violence there is no chance of any rehabilitation.”
Young offenders institute Hindley prison had the most callouts with ten, closely followed by HMP Lindholme and HMP Woodhill, which houses some of Britain’s most dangerous criminals.
Mr Wright said the riot squad was only called out to half of Britain’s prisons (51%) in the last year and were mainly dealing with “minor incidents” such as prisoner protests.
He said there was no rise in the number of serious incidents attended.
In his response to Mr Khan, the minister wrote: “NTRG staff have been called to attend incidents at only 51% of establishments in the past year.
“There has been a rise in the number of callouts during 2013. This is mainly due to minor incidents such as prisoners protesting by climbing on to the netting between landings.
“NTRG staff have the specialist skills required to deal with such incidents which accounted for 67% of all the callouts during 2013, and they are frequently called to attend as a precautionary measure.
“Not all callouts result in engagement by NTRG staff, with a number of situations being resolved locally.
“Of all the incidents attended during 2013, 74% were resolved by surrender.
“There has been no rise in the number of serious incidents being attended.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform said the rise in riot squad callouts was a direct consequence of Government budget cuts.
Andrew Neilson, its director of campaigns said serious unrest could be on the horizon.
He said: “These worrying figures are a direct consequence of the dangerous way the Ministry of Justice has cut prison budgets in response to the austerity drive within government.
“Rather than looking at the fact the prison population has doubled over the past 20 years and finding community sentences for the large number of people imprisoned needlessly, ministers took the gamble of slashing prison budgets by cutting back on staff, safety, security and useful things for prisoners to do.
“This policy has made our prisons increasingly dangerous places to live and work, with the potential for serious unrest on the horizon. If things go wrong, it will only lead to more crime, an increased risk to the public and a vast amount of taxpayers’ money wasted.”
Prisons Minister Mr Wright said: “We are reforming and modernising the prison estate to ensure best value for the taxpayer but are committed to maintaining safe prisons with appropriate staffing levels in order to deliver effective rehabilitation.
“Specialist trained staff have been called to an increase in minor incidents, but there is no rise in serious incidents. These staff are not riot squads.”
Here is a full list in alphabetical order of the prisons the National Tactical Response Group was called out to in 2013, followed by the number of callouts for each jail, as provided by Justice Minister Jeremy Wright in response to a parliamentary question from shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan:
Camp Hill 1
Channings Wood 1
Cookham Wood 2
Full Sutton 1
Glen Parva 3
Guys Marsh 3
Holme House 1
Lancaster Farms 1
Long Lartin 7
Lowdham Grange 6
Morton Hall 1
Rye Hill 7
Stoke Heath 1
Swinfen Hall 7
Wormwood Scrubs 1